For every Medal of Honor, there was a Call of Duty. For every Call of Duty, there was a Battlefield. Sniper Elite 3 might not be the first game to come to mind when you think of the evolution of first person shooters. But the series’ trademark long-range combat has been a rather strong success for Rebellion Games and the sequel will seek to evolve the formula that much more when it releases for PS3, Xbox 360, PS4, Xbox One and PC. Till then, what’s the current progress at Rebellion Games? GamingBolt spoke to senior producer Jean-Baptiste Bolcato about Sniper Elite 3, especially with regards to development for next gen consoles.
Bolcato also provided information on the Xbox One’s highly controversial eSRAM, the reason for including current gen platforms in the release schedule and next-gen specific functions.
Kurtis Simpson: Can you tell us about the differences between PS4/Xbox One and PS3/Xbox 360 versions of the game?
Jean-Baptiste Bolcato: So [for next-gen] we have better graphics, better resolution, the improvements that we have made to the engine for the lighting. When you zoom in down the scope of the rifle, no matter where you are looking there will be a complex level of detail in the objects. We’ve added tessellation to the game, so there will be a higher fidelity within the world. It looks just that much better on next-gen, but yes it is still fairly the same game.
We’ve added a few extra features such as the sounds coming from the PS4’s controller, on the Xbox One we are using the character’s heartbeat mapped to the trigger rumbles. We are using alot of things. So overall it’s the same game just bumped to be a little thicker on next gen. We are developing the PC version in parallel to consoles.
Which version are you looking to play on?
Kurtis Simpson: I will be looking forward to playing on the PC.
Jean-Baptiste Bolcato: Yes, so in the case of PC we have alot of guys around the studio who also play on the PC, they’re real techy guys. It’s where the franchise started. The PC is so important to us. The next-gen machines are so close technically to the PC. Naturally, with the PC version it will be very far ahead, very impressive, we can go to 4K, we can support 3D, we can support up to three screens and are working with AMD to support those functions.
"The way we've managed to make the game engine escalate depending on their power, means our experiments on the smaller machines allows it to be scalable so that we can do it all. But yes it can become complicated to deal with such a computational gap in performance."
Kurtis Simpson: So with the massive focus on the PC as well as next-gen consoles, what was the inspiration for keeping it on current gen consoles?
Jean-Baptiste Bolcato: It’s just too early for next-gen consoles, there’s a lot of people who still have PS3s. They’re selling well but there’s millions of consoles that are not quite gathering dust yet. The way we’ve managed to make the game engine escalate depending on their power, means our experiments on the smaller machines allows it to be scalable so that we can do it all. But yes it can become complicated to deal with such a computational gap in performance.
Kurtis Simpson: Regarding development difficulties with next-gen consoles, it’s been said that compared to a PC the PS4 has a rather slow CPU. How much of challenge is it to handle the different CPU threads when developing for Sony’s new platform?
Jean-Baptiste Bolcato: Well…not really because we have the PS3 and Xbox 360 to deal with and they’re very slow. The PS4 and Xbox one don’t really have great CPUs but they do have quite good GPUs, and there’s a really good pipe between the two you know, and they have extremely fast memory. They are good PCs you know, they are good PCs as a £300 box. You know what I mean, but yes you’re right with the PC. If you was to take a top-end graphics card and an 8-core monster processor you could see some magic you know [laughs].
So, yeah I would say it’s easier now, as it was harder to fully exploit the PC back with Sniper Elite V2, as it was really made towards the PS3 and Xbox 360. On PC we were suffering a little bit for that but now with the PC it can fully tap in to assets from the next-gen. We have these improved lightings, much higher resolutions, extreme textures and tessellation.
Kurtis Simpson: Is it safe to say the PC was the lead platform for this then?
Jean-Baptiste Bolcato: Kind of because most of our developers play on PC. We submit the game to Sony and Microsoft and then there’s a submission process of several months. During that time we give the PC version that extra polish, we add more details and make it more scale-able. The bottom line is before that all we had was the PS3 assets, so we could only scale a little bit. But now we have the next-gen assets the PC can push it more, more textures, more pixels.
"I think eSRAM is easy to use. The only problem is...Part of the problem is that it's just a little bit too small to output 1080p within that size. It's such a small size within there that we can't do everything in 1080p with that little buffer of super-fast RAM."
Kurtis Simpson: Going back to when you were discussing the PS4 and how you have used the controller, we will see anything for the Xbox one? Such as Kinect functions?
Jean-Baptiste Bolcato: No, we had a discussion about this with Microsoft and we’ve decided that the Kinect isn’t really right for a sniping game. It’s a core mechanic that we thought it is best not to use the camera and keep it how it is. We are using extra features with the controller but not with the Kinect, we’ll probably have “Launch Sniper 3!”
Kurtis Simpson: Just best to avoid having it seem like a Kinect gimmick and keeping it at the controller.
Jean-Baptiste Bolcato: Yeah exactly! I mean I’m not saying we shouldn’t have a Kinect game, it’s just not right for a sniping game. It’s not something a gamer will worry about and it’s about that sniper experience. Getting your breathing ready, your precision shot, taking aim, getting yourself ready for a tactical approach. We did experiment with it though but decided not to go along with it. With the Kinect you have to submit your concept to Microsoft, get it approved for the Xbox One, but no we are not using it.
Kurtis Simpson: So with Xbox One, it’s said that different developers are using its eSRAM in different ways. Many are using it for texture streaming and storing on the z-buffer, and while many are saying its pretty easy to use, and certain devs are having issues with it. What’s the approach that your team is taking? How are you guys handling it?
Jean-Baptiste Bolcato: It was clearly a bit more complicated to extract the maximum power from the Xbox One when you’re trying to do that. I think eSRAM is easy to use. The only problem is…Part of the problem is that it’s just a little bit too small to output 1080p within that size. It’s such a small size within there that we can’t do everything in 1080p with that little buffer of super-fast RAM.
It means you have to do it in chunks or using tricks, tiling it and so on. It’s a bit like the reverse of the PS3. PS3 was harder to program for than the Xbox 360. Now it seems like everything has reversed but it doesn’t mean it’s far less powerful – it’s just a pain in the ass to start with. We are on fine ground now but the first few months were hell.
Kurtis Simpson: Do you think this will become easier over time?
Jean-Baptiste Bolcato: Definitely, yeah. They are releasing a new SDK that’s much faster and we will be comfortably running at 1080p on Xbox One. We were worried six months ago and we are not anymore, it’s got better and they are quite comparable machines. The Xbox One is a bit more multimedia, a bit more hub-centric so its a bit more complex. There’s stuff you can and can’t do because it’s a sort of multimedia hub. PS4 doesn’t have that. PS4 is just a games machine.
"We now display the inside of the engines, the fuel tanks, the driver, explosive barrels. With human kill cams we have alot more detail to the bodies, there are alot more pieces, it's more organically accurate in where the muscle areas are."
Kurtis Simpson: So PS4 has a more of a core focus to being a games machine?
Jean-Baptiste Bolcato: Yeah, I mean that’s probably why, well at least on paper, it’s a bit more powerful. But I think the Xbox One is gonna catch up. But definitely there’s this eSRAM. PS4 has 8GB and it’s almost as fast as eSRAM [bandwidth wise] but at the same time you can go a little bit further with it, because you don’t have this slower memory. That’s also why you don’t have that many games running in 1080p, because you have to make it smaller, for what you can fit into the eSRAM with the Xbox One.
Kurtis Simpson: Alot of multi-platform games seem to be favoring the PS4’s hardware, Call of Duty Ghosts, Assassins Creed IV and Tomb Raider seem to be performing better on the PS4 compared to the Xbox One. How close will the PS4 and Xbox One versions of the game be? Can we expect both games running at 1080p at 60 Frames Per Second maybe?
Jean-Baptiste Bolcato: Well as close as possible to 60 frames per second on both the systems, it will probably be closer to 60 on the PS4 but it drops to around 40 and 50, but you won’t really feel or notice it. It may be a little bit slower on Xbox One but we are hoping to have full parity between the two machines. The only thing the Xbox One won’t have is stereoscopic 3D as they do not support it yet.
Kurtis Simpson: Stepping away from the technological side of things and more so to the actual game, What can you tell us about the X-Ray Kill Cam system in Sniper Elite 3? How are you guys taking it to the next level?
Jean-Baptiste Bolcato: Yes, we are taking up a level as you can use it not just on people but on vehicles too. We now display the inside of the engines, the fuel tanks, the driver, explosive barrels. With human kill cams we have alot more detail to the bodies, there are alot more pieces, it’s more organically accurate in where the muscle areas are. It’s going to be a natural evolution, It was pretty damn good in the first place so what we trying to do is not break anything. The vehicles will not be static, they will be more dynamic, some vehicles may be moving so you may have to change positions.
"The keyword for us was choice. Wherever you are you can do several things. Several routes, several ways, several paths, several approaches and unpredictable A.I."
Kurtis Simpson: Back in Sniper Elite V2 there seemed to be some inconsistencies in level design, such as narrow corridors going into open worlds then back again. How are you guys tackling level design in Sniper Elite 3?
Jean-Baptiste Bolcato: The keyword for us was choice. Wherever you are you can do several things. Several routes, several ways, several paths, several approaches and unpredictable A.I. The A.I. react to their senses, there are soldiers, squads, different officers, it’s just “Real”. Before it was script to go there, go here, but now they need to have goals, do their own thing, [achieve] their own needs.
They need to have original tasks and you need to be watching your back. As an example if say there are twenty five guys coming at you it won’t be all at once, they may move on to other sections, as there need to be meaningful encounters. Yeah, other than that it was choice and original objectives in any order. As you start the game you may have many objectives and you can go about it either way, and decide later on to take it another way.
Kurtis Simpson: So could you change your course or route half way through a mission?
Jean-Baptiste Bolcato: Yeh Yeh, it’s completely free.
Kurtis Simpson: Will we see a Co-op mode make a return?
Jean-Baptiste Bolcato: Yes, co-op mode will make its way into the campaign mode. Things will escalate more and it will be more harder. There will also be challenges as you play and one of you may play as a Sniper, while the other one covers you from the ground. It’s quite a unique thing and will be one of the key features of the game.
Kurtis Simpson: With multi-player what kind of modes can we expect?
Jean-Baptiste Bolcato: It’s going to be the same as Sniper Elite V2 but we have just refined it more. So Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch and so on.
"We are hoping it's going to be twelve [players] on every platform. Co-op will be limited to just two, we will not be doing any four or eight player co-op for the online."
Kurtis Simpson: What’s going to be the player limit for the multi-player on say Team Deathmatch?
Jean-Baptiste Bolcato: We are hoping it’s going to be twelve on every platform. Co-op will be limited to just two, we will not be doing any four or eight player co-op for the online.
Kurtis Simpson: Regarding DLC for the game can we expect anything such as Sniper Elite Nazi Zombies making its way in?
Jean-Baptiste Bolcato: Probably not with this as we are trying to keep Sniper Elite 3 fairly realistic, and in respect to its history and real snipers. Those were just spin-offs, sub-titles. After Sniper Elite 3 is out we could re-use the engine to do something again, something funky. But we are still releasing things for Sniper Nazi Zombies, they are completely different projects. Although in Nazi Zombies we re-used a lot of assets and the engine from Sniper Elite V2, but as it was only for PC it would be impossible to bring it to say PS3 as there a lot of zombies on-screen.
Kurtis Simpson: Can we expect to see Nazi Zombies on next-gen consoles?
Jean-Baptiste Bolcato: Who knows, we are kind of toying with the idea but it’s still too early to talk about it. Nothing’s impossible but right now we are focusing on Sniper Elite 3.
Kurtis Simpson: Well all seems great and I look forward to the final release of the game, thanks for your time.
Jean-Baptiste Bolcato: Thank you and we hope you enjoy it when it’s released.